THE WATCHMAN OF GLENORO
THE WESTMINSTER CO., Limited
Entered According to the Act of Parliament of Canada in the Year 1905
By THE WESTMINSTER COMPANY
In the Office of the Minister of Agriculture
I. THE COVENANT II. A MEMORABLE SABBATH III. A WAR-MAKER AND A PEACE-MAKER IV. THE SECOND JOHN McALPINE V. A PASTORAL VISITATION VI. THE FULFILMENT OF PROMISE VII. A DISASTROUS PICNIC VIII. BURSTING OF THE STORM IX. THE PRESIDENT OF THE LADIES' AID SOCIETY X. THE WATCHMAN'S DESPAIR XI. COALS OF FIRE XII. JESSIE XIII. THE CANADIAN PATRIOTIC SOCIETY XIV. DONALD'S RETURN XV. THE SACRIFICE XVI. THE COVENANT RENEWED
THE WATCHMAN OF GLENORO
The morning sun was growing stronger as it rose higher. Collie, returning from driving his master's cow to the cool shade of the back pasture, felt its rays penetrate his shaggy coat. His tongue hung out as he padded swiftly up the garden path where already the dew was almost dried from the rows of marigolds and sweet William. He dropped with a sigh in the shadow of the old water-barrel that stood against the house. He felt too warm even to chase his enemy, the cat, into her accustomed shelter of the adjacent pine tree, though she was curled up with impudent complacence upon the top of the barrel. Instead, he lay in the shade, his eyes glancing furtively through the open door. He could see inside the old log shanty, where a figure was moving about the bare, spotless kitchen; his tail began to thump a welcome upon the ground, as the figure came slowly forward and stood in the doorway. It was an old man, tall and stooped, with a finely built frame which suggested a less rugged constitution than is the possession of the average pioneer. His face was handsome, with regular, clearly cut features and a pair of wonderful eyes, dark and deep set, with a wealth of kindness in their brown depths and a mysterious pathos which spoke of a poetic soul beneath.
Duncan Polite, the people of the neighbourhood called him, partly because the name was descriptive of his gentle, courteous nature, and partly because, among the many McDonalds of these Canadian Highlands, to which clan he belonged, names were so often repeated that the only appellation of any use to a man was the special and distinguishing one, complimentary or otherwise, bestowed upon him by his neighbours. Indeed, such was the dearth of original names that it is on record that old Ian McAllister, the first schoolmaster in the McDonald settlement, was often compelled as he flung his tawse across the room at some focussed point of mischief behind the stove, to pause even at the boiling-point of his wrath, to deliver himself of some such explanation of the case as:
"Fiddlin' Archie's Archie, an' Squintin' Archie's Duncan, an' you, Black Sandy More, come up here or Ah'll smash every curse o' a McDonald in the school!"
But among all the McDonalds there was only one whose character demanded such a title as belonged to Duncan Polite. He stood for a moment this morning, in his doorway, gazing over the sun-bathed fields, all green and gold in their early summer dress, then went back into the room, returning the next moment carrying an old leather-bound Bible. He spread his big red handkerchief upon the doorstep to protect his Sabbath clothes from possible contact with dust, and seated himself upon it, the open Book on his knee.
Everything in his little bachelor domain was in perfect order; the path to the gate, with its bright border of flowers, was swept as clean as the spotless floor within the log shanty; the old stove in the centre of the kitchen, the big, high cupboard with its rows of shining dishes, the old clock ticking in a solemn muffled tone from its place on the dresser, and the bare pine table were all in a condition of beautiful dazzling cleanliness. A condition befitting the day, Duncan felt, for it was Sabbath morning, and now he sat awaiting the coming of his old friend, with whom it had been his custom, for more than thirty years, to walk down the valley to church, rain or shine, snow storm or blazing heat.
Collie looked up with eyes of dumb devotion as the man seated himself. He wagged his tail expectantly, but, seeing the open Bible, dropped his nose between his paws again and dozed.
But Duncan Polite did not read. His eyes wandered away over the landscape. It was a scene worth contemplating—an expansive tract of rich farm lands, stretching from the blue line of Lake Simcoe on the south, to another blue line on the northern horizon, where Lake Oro peeped through the sharp tops of the firs. But to Duncan Polite, the best of all was the little valley that sloped abruptly from his very doorstep to the sparkling river.
His eyes followed the white road that passed his farm and wound down into the shady depths. He could see it twisting in and out among the elms, and on through the village where the tall smoke-stack of the saw-mill, the church spire and the chimneys of the houses rose out of the green orchards. It crossed the blue line of the river where the old church stood, and then went winding up the opposite hill to disappear among the pines.
The beauty of it all went to Duncan Polite's poetic heart. The music of the river, mingling with the chorus of the orioles that flashed golden in the pines at his gate, found an echo in his soul, and he crooned to its accompaniment his favourite Gaelic psalm,
"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside the still waters."
His glen, Duncan Polite had always called this place beneath him, though he owned not a foot of land within its green walls; but his glen it really was in a higher sense. More than fifty years before, old Donald McDonald, his father, had cut down the first tree on the Oro banks, and there, in that time of incredible hardships, he had knelt one day by an old mossy stone on the edge of the valley and, Jacob-like, made a covenant with the Lord, that if He would be with him and give him a home for his children in the wilderness, they would pledge themselves to make it a place of righteousness, as pure and lovely as they had received it from Nature's hand.
Duncan had been a mere child then, but he had realised something of the solemnity of the pledge. As he grew older the feeling became stronger, until it developed into the conviction that he had been chosen for this special work, namely, that of keeping the little glen at his feet a centre of all good influences. He had set himself as a sort of spiritual watchman to the place; everything that brought discredit upon it gave him deepest pain; everything that tended to raise its moral tone was, to him, a personal favour and joy.
Sometimes his task had seemed impossible; sometimes he doubted his ability to be of any use; but on this bright Sabbath morning a new accession of hope had made him unusually happy. His eyes rested upon the sun-bathed hilltops with a deep peace. Those enduring hills had always been of great comfort to the watchman. As he saw the dense forests change into fields of grain, they seemed the one immutable feature in his surroundings and served as a familiar landmark to a puzzled traveller.
"I will lift up mine eyes into the hills, from whence cometh mine aid," he quoted softly.
A brisk step sounded upon the stony road above; the old man did not hear, his lips were still moving, his eyes still fixed in a happy reverie upon the far-off horizon.
Collie arose slowly as a figure approached the gate. He was too well versed in canine etiquette to bark at his master's oldest friend, but he felt he should mark his approach in some way. He went forward with waving tail and respectfully lowered head, uttering a gruff ejaculation which could scarcely be called a bark and yet served as a form of greeting.
The newcomer paused at the gate. "Aye, Duncan, ye're waitin'," he said.
Duncan Polite's friend was as unlike him as a Lowland Scot can be unlike a Highlander, which is granting a very wide difference indeed. He was short and thick-set, with energy and force speaking from every limb of his well-knit frame. In spite of his near approach to three-score-and-ten, he was erect and brisk, and, although he always carried a stick, it was more for the purpose of emphasising his forcible arguments than as a support for advancing age.
A stern, upright man was Andrew Johnstone, a terror to evil-doers and so prone to carry out all the law and the prophets by physical force that he had earned, among the irreverent youth of the community, the name of "Splinterin' Andra."
The deep friendship between him and the gentle, poetic Duncan McDonald was as strange as it was lasting; for, though they seemed not to possess one characteristic in common, not once in all their long years of comradeship had their allegiance waned.
At the sight of him, Duncan Polite started up in a bewildered fashion.
"Oh, and it will be you, Andra," he said, "Oh yes, yes, it will be time to be going, indeed."
Collie came sadly and limply to the gate and watched them depart. He was a wise dog, and knew that when his master wore a black suit and carried two books, dogs were not wanted. The thought never entered his sagacious canine head to attempt upsetting the established order of things, but he could not resist a longing whine as he stood looking through the bars of the gate, his eyes eager, his head on one side, his whole body a quivering protest against being left at home in the company of a mere cat.
Duncan turned and said a comforting word in Gaelic, and Collie, though a Canadian, understood the language of his Highland ancestors, and trotted meekly back to his despised companion on the water-barrel.
The two old men stepped out leisurely, one on either side of the road, as was their custom, Duncan with his head bent forward, his eyes fixed on the far-off horizon, and Andrew with his head thrown back and chest expanded, his hands clasped behind him, his big stick waving up and down beneath his coat-tails, except when he whirled it to the front, to bring it crashing upon the stones in emphasis of some truth.
These walks to the church were their greatest enjoyment. They started at least an hour earlier than was necessary and had plenty of time to move along at the gentle lingering pace conducive to friendly talk. They discussed everything of interest that was in keeping with the day. Generally their conversation was of the good old times and the great transformations they had witnessed; and sometimes Duncan Polite hinted at his ambition for the village, knowing he was sure of his friend's sympathy.
They passed the first turn in the winding road and came out from behind a fairy curtain of drooping elm boughs into full view of the river and the orchards, before either spoke.
Andrew Johnstone showed what his thoughts had been when he broke the silence.
"Yon Collie o' yours is jist like the young folk o' to-day, Duncan," he said. "They're aye wantin' away when they should bide at hame."
The old man's chief cross in life was the rising generation, of which he considered his own son the most exasperating type.
"Aye," he repeated ruminatingly, "he's jist like the young folk, but Ah misdoot he's got mair sense than some o' them."
But Duncan Polite had unbounded faith in Young Canada. "Oh, indeed they will be jist lads and lasses, Andra," he said indulgently. "And they will be good at heart. The Lord will guide them aright, never fear."
"Ah hope so, Duncan, Ah hope so, but there's oor Andra noo, he's got nae mair sense than when he was on his mither's knee. Him an' yon nephews o' yours are jist as prone to evil as the sparks to fly upwards. They spend half o' their time in the glen wi' yon' gigglin' licht-heided lasses o' John Hamilton's, and the ither half, fleein' ower the country. Ah see Sandy's gotten the bag-pipes noo, an' ma lad's jist gone fair daft wi' the goin's on up at Betsey's."
Duncan was somewhat abashed. He remembered with a pang of conscience that he had admired his nephew's bag-pipes, and had laughed with his sister, as the piper strode up and down the kitchen, playing McDonald's reel, to the stirring and uproarious accompaniment of the six flying feet of his brothers.
"Oh well, well," he said apologetically, "they would not be meaning any harm, and Donal' will be at home for his holidays, and the lads will be jist a wee bit noisy. And, indeed, Sandy would be playing a fine strathspey the other night." He checked himself hurriedly, feeling that such a subject was incongruous on the Sabbath.
Andrew Johnstone seemed to share his opinion, for he made no answer, but walked along whacking the wayside weeds with vicious strokes of his big stick. This was always a bad sign, and Duncan was silent for a time. He had a great piece of good news regarding one of those same nephews, but the turn the conversation had taken rendered it rather difficult to tell his friend.
"I would be thinking this morning of the great power of prayer, Andra," he said, by way of introduction. "All the good that would be coming to Glenoro in these years the good Lord would be sending it in answer to prayer."
Andrew Johnstone put his stick behind him; his face cleared. "Aye, aye, Duncan, yon's a fact. Man, d'ye mind how your faither an' mine, an' old Donald Fraser would meet when we were lads an' pray for the means o' grace an' the ordinances o' God's hoose?"
"Yes, yes, Andra, yes indeed, and He would be sending Mr. McAlpine to awaken the people, and then the church came, and Mr. Cameron."
"Man, yon were wild days, before Mr. McAlpine cam'," replied his friend, giving himself up to the joys of retrospect. "Yer faither used to say the Glen was jist like the Garden o' Eden until the serpent cam', an' it wes the tavern. Ah mind when yon Eerish crew from the Flats cam' up here to Pete Nash's tavern, an' the lads from the Oa cam' doon, a' McDonalds to a man, an' ye could hear the fechtin' ower on the Tenth. Man, yon Murphys were a bad lot!"
Duncan's eyes shone. He was leading up skilfully to his happy disclosure. "Yes, the times would be bad, but Mr. McAlpine came, and the revival came. He would be the man of God indeed, and it would be jist prayer that brought him, and it would be prayer that brought the church and Mr. Cameron among us."
"Aye, aye, Duncan; when we remember all the way He has led us, we shouldna' lose faith."
There was a pause and Duncan began again with an effort. It was always difficult for him to open his heart, even to the comrade of his youth. "I would be praying all these years for something, Andra, and it would seem almost too great, but the Father would be answering me. Oh, yes, He would be kinder than we can ever know."
His friend turned and looked at him sharply, and noticed for the first time the unusual radiance of his face. "Aye?" he inquired. "It would be aboot Betsey's lads."
Duncan nodded, his face aglow. "Donal'."
"An' what aboot him?"
"He would be studying so hard when I sent him to the school that now I will be sending him to college next fall, an' I will be praying that——" He faltered, almost fearing to put his great hope into words.
Andrew Johnstone paused in his walk and stared. He knew Duncan had been long nursing a great ambition for his eldest nephew and had been educating him at his own expense towards that end, but he could not believe it was to be fulfilled.
"He'll no be thinkin' o' bein' a meenister?" he inquired, failing to keep his utter astonishment out of his tone.
Duncan nodded, his eyes shining. "He would not be jist promising me yet, for Donal' says he will not be worthy, and the lad is right, for it will be a high calling. But he would not be refusing me when I asked him, and he will be going to Toronto in the fall, and surely the Lord will touch the lad's heart——" He was off in a happy day-dream again, a dream wherein his nephew stood in Glenoro pulpit when their aged minister laid down the work.
Andrew Johnstone did not answer for some minutes. He hesitated to disturb his friend's airy castles, but in his estimation there was no material in any of the youth of Glenoro for the making of a minister, much less in Duncan's eldest nephew. For one thing, the young man was far too intimate with his own son.
"Ah houp it'll be so, Duncan," he said at last, as they turned in at the church gate. "Maister Cameron's an' auld man noo an' he'll soon be wantin' to retire, an' mebby——" He paused as though the sequel were impossible, adding at last the rather ambiguous encouragement, "With God, all things are possible, ye ken."
A MEMORABLE SABBATH
The Glenoro Presbyterian Church, which the two old men were entering, was a bare, white structure, very grand in the eyes of the old folk who remembered the little log building where Mr. McAlpine, their first minister, used to preach. But to the rising generation it appeared much inferior to the neat brick church on the slope of the northern hill, where the Methodists worshipped.
It was certainly not a handsome edifice, but Nature had done much where man had been most neglectful. It stood right by the water's edge; and the Oro River, coming out from between its high wooded banks, made a pretty sweep round the quiet graveyard with its white stones. A fringe of willows hung over the water, mirrored in its green depths, and some woodbine from the neighbouring forest had found its way up the church walls and covered them with a drapery green and enduring. Verily, beautiful for situation was the Zion of the Glenoro Presbyterians.
But inside, where man's taste had full control, everything was very severe. The two rows of long, stiff, black pews, the high, box-like pulpit, the little cage for the precentor, a few oil lamps in brackets along the walls and the huge black stove with its weary length of pipes stretching from end to end of the building, constituted the furniture. As for decoration, there was absolutely none, unless the high arched panel behind the pulpit, painted a dull grey and looking like a gigantic tombstone, or the two shining tin pails hung at the elbows of the stove-pipes to prevent the rain from dripping upon the worshippers could be considered ornaments. But the floor and the walls were white and spotless, the stove and stove-pipes shone with all the brilliancy that polish could give them; and the big, rectangular, thirty-six paned windows glittered like the waters of the Oro, whose music was now being wafted through their open sashes.
And, indeed, to the two old men who were entering the church it mattered little that man's hand had no part in adorning their Zion, for to them the place was clothed in the beauty of holiness and filled with the presence of Him who is the brightness of His Father's glory.
They stepped in quietly and reverently, each passing at once to his own place, Andrew to his prominent pew at the side of the pulpit, Duncan to his modest seat behind the stove. They never addressed each other after entering the sanctuary, but sat with bowed heads in meditation and prayer until the commencement of the service. They generally had a long time to wait, too, for no matter at what unseasonable hour in the morning the other worshippers might start for church, it was well nigh impossible to get there before the elders.
Some time passed before anyone else arrived, but at last the big door swung slowly open and Peter McNabb, elder and precentor, who was always a good second in the stately and pious race for church, entered, and went silently forward to his place in front of the pulpit. The custom of having a precentor to "raise the tune" instead of a choir and organ was considered extremely old-fashioned by the more juvenile members of the congregation, but the old people held tenaciously to this time-honoured custom, in spite of much agitation for a change. And, indeed, had the young advocates of progress but paused to consider, they must have been forced to confess that Peter McNabb was a much better musical instrument than any that could ever be produced by man. He was the village blacksmith and he put the same energy into his singing on the Sabbath as he did into the mighty swing of his sledge on week days. He knew very little about musical technique; his voice may not have been very highly cultivated; but he had an appreciation of the psalms which only a godly man can have, and a pure, silvery voice which could pour out floods of melody, or soften itself to the most heart-breaking pathos as the words demanded. For, when he sang to the wail of Martyrdom,
"Lord, from the depths to Thee I cry,"
he melted many a heart to tears. And sometimes Duncan's musical soul was so stirred that he found himself clutching the seat in a very ecstasy, almost expecting the grey panel behind the minister's saintly head to burst into inconceivable glory of cherubim and seraphim as, with a rapturous shout, the precentor swept the congregation into the glory of the old psalm,
"Ye gates lift up your heads on high, Ye doors that last for aye, Be lifted up that so the King Of glory enter may!"
To the aged minister behind him, Peter's singing was a pillar of faith. Mr. Cameron had travelled widely in his younger days and had heard grand music in the cathedrals of the old world, magnificent harmonies of trained voices with flute and violin and organ helping to interpret the divine meaning of the old masters. It had all been very grand and he often longed to hear such music again; but he sometimes wondered, as he sat in the shadow of his pulpit desk on a Sabbath morning, why there had been nothing in all its grandeur which tended to settle so unshakably the foundations of one's faith, as did listening to Peter McNabb lead his Glenoro congregation slowly and solemnly in
"Oh Lord the God of Hosts, who can To Thee compared be? The Mighty One, the Lord, Whose truth Doth round encompass Thee!"
There were three more elders: big John Hamilton, whose only sin was a family of over-dressed daughters; Donald Fraser, son of the Fraser famous for having Mr. McAlpine's first service at his place; and Peter Farquhar, a Highlander, one of the many McDonalds. Good men and true they all were, who feared God and eschewed evil, veritable fathers in Israel to the congregation.
The people soon followed. Duncan Polite's face lit up with pleasure as a group of five filed past him into his pew, his widowed sister and her four boys. The old man's gaze rested lovingly upon Donald, the lad of his hopes. He was a young man worthy a second glance, a straight, lithe fellow, the kind they breed in the Canadian Highlands. His thin, keen face showed a striking resemblance to his uncle's in its handsome regularity of feature, but there was nothing of Duncan Polite in the bold flash of the young man's eye, nor in the proud swing of his fine figure.
Duncan's attention was taken from him by a slight disturbance at his side. Archie, a small urchin of nine, was struggling quietly but persistently with Neil, his senior by two years, for the honour of sitting next his uncle. Mrs. Neil treated the affair, as she did all the boys' misdemeanours, with a sweet, unconscious placidity, but Donald, who exercised a sort of muscular authority over his brothers, put out his big foot with a quiet but emphatic kick which settled the dispute.
Sandy looked disappointed. "Why didn't you let the little beggars fight it out?" he whispered, "it would give Splinterin' Andra something to chew on."
Donald's face twitched with laughter, and from his point of vantage in the front pew, the ruling elder caught the smile on the face of Glenoro's future pastor and sighed to think how greatly his friend was being deceived.
The last straggler had slipped into the back seat, the church was filled, and every eye was turned expectantly towards the vestry door. It opened presently and the aged minister came forth. As he went up the steep pulpit stair, Duncan Polite's loving eye caught signs of added weakness in his gait, the motions of one too weary for further effort, and his heart was smitten with fear. He could never contemplate the removal of his pastor without the apprehension of coming disaster. There was a new class of people growing up in the church, whose broad views threatened to overturn the simple, pious ways of their fathers. As long as Mr. Cameron was over them Duncan felt assured they would never go far astray, but he often looked into the future with some misgivings.
The minister's text was characteristic, one that Duncan remembered all his life afterwards, as his greatest stay and comfort in times of distress: "And the Lord shall guide thee continually and satisfy thy soul in drought."
The sermon was not shortened because of the minister's apparent weakness; a Glenoro sermon was never less than an hour in length and very often reached the two-hour limit. There were two morning sermons, one in Gaelic immediately following the English service for the benefit of the Highlanders who flocked down from the Oa, the Highland settlement north of Glenoro. Many of the Gentiles, who did not know the chosen language, went home after the first service, and their places were taken by the new contingent.
Andrew Johnstone always remained for the Gaelic service. He understood very little of the language, but he felt the presence of the elders was necessary, and then he could walk home with Duncan and discuss the sermon, a pleasure for which it was worth waiting.
The breaking up of the Glenoro congregation followed an established order of procedure and varied not one Sabbath from another. Any departure from the order of their going would have been considered as irregular as though the minister were to pronounce the benediction before the sermon. First, the young men of the back row flung themselves through the door, noiselessly but hastily, inhaling great breaths of relief. Next came those who had to get their horses from the shed, and close upon them the village folk, passing with fine superiority their rural neighbours. These came out last, to linger and chat while the big double buggies were whirled into place with a scraping sound and the families were perched aboard. Duncan and Andrew, as was their custom, waited for a private word with the minister. The former watched Donald hand his mother into the smart single buggy and drive away through the gate. He did not even miss the glance of Donald's eyes towards John Hamilton's daughters, passing up the street like a gay posy of flowers. Duncan Polite's heart was ever young and he smiled sympathetically as he caught the answering glance from a pair of bright eyes beneath a big white hat.
The minister came slowly down the aisle, shaking hands with all. He had only time for his midday meal and then he was away again to his other charge, a church some nine miles distant on one of the township roads colloquially styled the Tenth. But Mr. Cameron never hurried away without a word with his two old friends.
"Ye're no lookin' well the day, sir," said Andrew Johnstone anxiously. "The work's ower hard on ye in the hot weather; ye're needin' a bit rest."
"Oh, I will be getting a rest, Andrew," he answered, smiling, "a good long rest, and it will be soon."
Duncan Polite looked up with a sudden flash of apprehension in his eyes, but his friend returned the glance with a reassuring smile.
"And so Donald is going to college," he said. "Ah, that's fine, Duncan, that's fine! We'll make a minister of him yet, and a fine one he'll be, I promise. You'll live to hear him preach here when I'm gone."
Duncan put up his hand in protest.
"Tut, tut, sir," said the elder sharply, as was his way when he was moved, "ye'll hear him yersel' some day if he comes till it, never fear."
The minister shook his head. "No, Andrew, I will not hear the lad, but it is a great comfort to me to see Donald McDonald's grandson taking up the work he prayed for, and I hope the Father will spare you both a long time. But as for me——" He paused. The church was empty but for the three old men; the subdued murmur of the people's voices came through the open windows; a smile illuminated the old minister's saintly face. "As for me, it will not be long; 'Tarry thou here, for the Lord hath sent me to Jordan.'"
He turned and, still smiling, walked up the aisle and into the vestry. The two went out into the sunlight.
"Surely he wouldna' mean——" suggested Andrew Johnstone, afraid to say more.
But Duncan Polite could not answer; in the midst of his happiness, when his hopes were at their height, he had been stricken with a great fear. He understood too well the significance of his pastor's words, the farewell of Elijah, and, like Elisha, the old man could have cried out from his very soul, "As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee!" But he knew that this was a Jordan that must be crossed alone.
The two friends walked up the hill in silence, one filled with a foreboding, the other with a dread certainty of impending trouble.
"If Maister Cameron's ever ta'en awa frae us, Duncan," said the elder gloomily, "mark ma word, there'll be trouble in the kirk. We ha'e a pack o' godless young folk growin' up that need the blue beech gad, every one o' them, an' if Maister Cameron was ta'en Ah'm no sayin' what they'd do!"
Duncan had turned and was looking down the hill at a rapidly approaching figure. His companion followed the direction of his gaze. "Man, is yon Peter McNabb?" he inquired in amazement.
The feeling was quite natural. To see an elder of the Presbyterian Church rushing along the public highway without his coat, on the Sabbath day, was sufficient to raise consternation in the breast of any Glenorian. Duncan's heart contracted with fear. "Is it the minister?" he asked tremulously, as the blacksmith came up to them, breathless.
Peter's ruddy face was pale beneath the tan. His eyes fell before the question as though he were guilty. "Aye, it's jist that," he said with simple sorrow; "I came for ye both."
The two turned and retraced their steps at his side. Andrew Johnstone was the first to speak. "He's no gone, Peter?" he asked, with more than his usual sternness.
"Aye," said the other in a whisper, "that's jist it, Andra, he's gone."
A WAR-MAKER AND A PEACE-MAKER
Duncan Polite's valley was slowly disappearing in the shadows of evening when he stepped from his gate and somewhat hesitatingly turned down into its purple depths. He was experiencing a strange, almost uncanny feeling, for, not only was he going to church alone, but he was actually on his way to worship with the Methodists! He had a vague fear that he must be doing wrong. But indeed, he was going merely in the hope that he might hear some comforting words from the Methodist minister; and Duncan was sadly in need of comfort.
In the long months since Mr. Cameron's death, his days had been filled with anxiety and fear for his covenant. When the first sharpness of grief at the loss of his old friend had passed, the Watchman slowly awakened to the knowledge that he was living among a strange people. Under Mr. Cameron's wise, loving rule all classes in the congregation had been unanimous; the elder folk believed him perfect and the younger respected him too deeply to disagree with him. But when the bond of union was severed, a new party with alarmingly progressive ideas, suddenly came to life. They were fain to introduce many improvements into the church service which the fathers of the sanctuary considered unsound and irreverent. They wanted a choir and an organ like the Methodists; they desired to sing hymns as did their sister congregation over on the Tenth; and, most of all, they considered it imperative that they should stand to sing and sit to pray, as did all respectable people.
Andrew Johnstone, who represented the old school and its traditions, stood at the head of the ancient party as immovable as the church foundations. Some of the elders might counsel yielding, or at least compromising, but not Splinterin' Andra. He regarded all these youthful aspirations as signs of the degeneracy of the times and a decay of spiritual life and, therefore, to be immediately quenched.
So the two parties stood arrayed against each other and the chief cause of their dissension was the choice of a new minister. The more youthful party wanted a young man, or at least one who was "lively," while old Glenoro held to its ideal—a man as much as possible like Hector Cameron, or, if it were not looking for too much on this earth, a second John McAlpine. But the young people of the congregation had never heard Mr. McAlpine preach, and, like the Egyptians, who did not know Joseph, they had not the proper respect for that great leader, and they also considered Gaelic sermons, two-hour discourses and half-hour prayers as belonging to a past generation.
All these trials, youthful frivolity, the lack of a Gaelic service and old Andrew Johnstone's storms, Duncan Polite had borne patiently; but to-day's sermon had been almost too much for even his optimism, for that morning a smart probationer had stood up in Mr. Cameron's sacred pulpit and delivered a twenty-minute address on the Beauties of Nature! Even the young people had been shocked, and Andrew Johnstone had, for once, voiced the sentiments of the whole congregation as he gave his opinion of the young man to Duncan Polite on their homeward walk. "It's a guid thing Maister Cameron's gone till his rest," he remarked sombrely. "If he'd a lived to see his pulpit filled by a bit buddie that couldna' hang on till his taxt for half an' 'oor, he'd never a held up his heid again!"
And so Duncan had been driven to the extremity of seeking comfort in the Methodist Church and was on his way thither, in some doubt as to the wisdom of such a strange proceeding, and in much fear that Andrew would disapprove.
The Methodist Church was a substantial brick building, set picturesquely on the slope of the northern hill. Duncan went hesitatingly in and took a seat near the door. He found it quite a roomy place and well filled. There was much more ornamentation here than in his own place of worship; the walls were papered, the pulpit platform was covered with a gay carpet, two shining brass chandeliers were suspended from the ceiling, the windows were frosted glass with a row of lurid blue and red panes around each, and behind the minister was the centre of attraction and cynosure of all eyes, the choir and the organ.
Duncan felt a return of his misgivings when he recognised many members of his own church in that institution; for, such was the chaos of these new times that the Methodist services were attended regularly by nearly all the young Presbyterians. And, indeed, matters had come to such a pitch that the choir was conducted by no less a person than young Andrew Johnstone himself, much to the wrath and shame of his pious father.
That choir was at once the delight and torment of its members. The hopes and fears, the triumphs and despairs that surged within the little railing, would have been sufficient to swamp the congregation, could they have broken loose. But the enjoyment outweighed the pain; there was choir practise once a week and sometimes they were invited to furnish the music at a neighbouring tea-meeting and both these were unmixed joys. Then, too, they were permitted to sing quite alone at the regular church services, while the collection was being taken up; and sometimes they even ventured to sing an anthem, though the evening they sang one with a tenor solo by Sylvanus Todd, they were considered to have gone a little too far, by even the most liberal minded, and the offence was not repeated until more enlightened times.
Mr. Ansdell, the Methodist minister, was a benign old gentleman with an angelic face and a heart to match. He noted the mingling of the different religious sects in Glenoro with humble joy, and regarded the fact that a Presbyterian elder's son should lead the singing in the Methodist church as a mark of the broad and kindly spirit of the age and one of the potent signs of the millennium.
He was just the sort of man to appeal to Duncan Polite's heart. His sermon was like himself, gentle, loving and overflowing with goodwill to all men. Duncan sat and drank it in with deepest joy; surely his covenant was in no great danger with such a man as Mr. Ansdell in his glen!
Thereafter, in spite of old Andrew's opposition, he could not resist the pleasure of an occasional Sabbath evening service. He did not always have the privilege of listening to his new friend, however. Mr. Ansdell had another field and preached only on alternate Sabbaths in his Glenoro pulpit. On the occasions of his absence the service was generally taken by a student or a lay preacher from some place in the vicinity. Sometimes the preacher was anything but a man of parts, and was too often a source of merriment to the frivolous row of young men in the back seats. The big college student with the long, fair hair, who raved and foamed and battered all the fringe off the pulpit cushion in a gallant attempt to prove that the Bible is true, a fact which, until then, no Glenorian would have dreamed of calling in question; the poor, halting farmer who tacked a nervous syllable to occasional words, making his text read: "All-um we like sheep-um have gone astray-um;" the giant from the Irish Flats who roared out a long prayer in a manner that terrified his hearers and set all the babies crying and then ended his bellowings with "Lord, hear our feeble breathings," all these were a joy to the back row and the cause of much irreverent giggling in the choir.
But whether the sermon was delivered by minister, layman or divinity student, Duncan Polite always found something spiritually uplifting in the service; and, indeed, so did many another, for if the preacher sometimes lacked in oratory, he made up for it in piety, and if he failed to shine in the pulpit, his life was nearly always a sermon strong and convincing.
Even on the rare occasions when old Silas Todd led the service, the time was not misspent, in the opinion of the Watchman. Silas Todd was one of the pillars of the church and when the local preacher failed to appear, which contingency sometimes arose in the season of bad roads, the duty of preaching a sermon generally devolved upon him. He was a pious little man, bent and thin, with a marked Cockney accent. He had mild pale blue eyes and a simple, almost seraphic smile which scarcely ever left his countenance and which was the index to his character. His wife was small and pious like himself, and had the same accent and the same benevolent expression. They always sat close together on the front seat like a pair of shy children, he in his rough, loose homespun, she in her grey wincey, a neatly folded Paisley shawl and a brown bonnet with a pink feather—this last ornament being the pride of Silas' heart and the one bit of finery his wife permitted herself. They shared one hymn book and Bible, no matter how many there might be scattered around them, and both sang in a high ecstatic key, a measure behind the choir. They swayed to and fro, quite carried away by the music, and as Silas stood with his head thrown back and his eyes shut, and his wife kept her eyes modestly upon her book, they very often collided, to the great detriment of the singing and the disturbing of the pink feather. But the only sign their frequent collisions called forth was a smile of perfect accord and redoubled energy in the singing and swaying.
Silas was modest and never shouldered the task of leading the service until all hope of the preacher's appearing had been given up. On such occasions the congregation would assemble and sit quietly expectant; even the back row, who waited at the church shed until they were in sufficient numbers to brave an entry into the church, having flopped noisily into their places. The choir would whisper and the organist nervously turn over the leaves of the hymn book. Then the fathers of the church would confer, look through the window or tip-toe to the door, confer again, and once more gaze anxiously in the direction from which the preacher was expected to appear.
At this point there would arise from the Todd pew such a fluttering and twittering as can be heard in the nest when the mother-bird is encouraging her little ones to fly. Mrs. Todd, acting as monitor, would give Silas many pushes and nudges which he modestly resisted, until her efforts were augmented by those of his brother officials, when, yielding at last to their importunities, he would slowly rise and go shyly and lingeringly up to the pulpit desk. And the congregation would settle back with a resigned air to listen to the simple, good old fellow give a long and tedious recital of his spiritual experiences, punctuated by many sighs and tearful "Amens" from beneath the sympathetic Paisley shawl.
But in spite of much comfort afforded by the Methodists, Duncan Polite's heart was often heavy with foreboding. He could not help seeing that Andrew Johnstone must soon come to open war with the new party in the church. In his well-meant and vigorous efforts to make everyone tread the old paths the ruling elder produced a great amount of friction; for, though he feared God, he did not regard man, and woe betide the reckless youth who made himself too conspicuous in the reform movement.
The Sabbath school was his stronghold, for there he was superintendent and monarch absolute, and there he seized every opportunity to publicly rebuke anyone who dared transgress his rigid laws.
But the rising generation was not to be wholly deterred from rising by even the terrors of Splinterin' Andra; and, as Duncan Polite feared, the inevitable conflict ensued.
The immediate cause of the rupture was a church organ, merely a myth as yet, but real enough to arouse the apostle of ancient customs to his best fighting mood. The very mention of an instrument made by man to be used in the worship of God, was to the ruling elder the extreme of sacrilege. But in spite of his disapproval, the young people went so far as to hold a meeting at which to discuss the possibility of their purchasing the coveted instrument.
Miss Cotton, the chief dress and mischiefmaker in the village, although no longer absolutely young, was the leader of the rising generation, and she counselled just going ahead without Splinterin' Andra's advice.
There were not many, however, who were possessed of either her courage or her indiscretion. They all agreed, though, that Andrew Johnstone was the one insurmountable barrier to their hopes. Most of the other elders had been approached in a tentative way. Peter McNabb was a broad-minded man with such a passion for music that, though he looked askance at any innovation, yet he would have welcomed anything that would help the singing. Old Donald Fraser considered an organ an unmixed evil and remarked, when asked for his opinion on the subject, that it would be "clean defyin' o' the Almighty" to introduce one into the church. But he had a very ambitious wife and daughter, and as the latter had been taking music lessons and cherishing rosy dreams of one day playing in church, the organ party felt that Mr. Fraser would not be quite immovable. Old John Hamilton, of course, scarcely counted. He said "aye, aye," in a dazed way when his daughters clamoured for his consent, adding that "he'd see what Andra said." Peter Farquhar, they knew, might be difficult, as he belonged to the Oa and was, therefore, very old-fashioned; but they all agreed that if Andrew Johnstone could be moved, all the others would follow; so some one must ask his permission.
Miss Cotton suggested that Wee Andra, the son of old Andra, would be the proper person to carry their request to the elder. "Wee Andra" the young man had been called in his babyhood, to distinguish him from his father, and he still bore the anomalous title though he stood six-feet-four in his moccasins and was disproportionately broad. But in spite of these physical securities, the young giant flatly refused the doubtful honour of approaching his father on the sore subject; so, after much discussion, the delicate task devolved upon Mr. Watson, the schoolmaster. The master had "tack" and education, Miss Cotton explained, and was just the man for the position. So, fortified by this flattery, the young man went up over the hills one morning on his dangerous quest.
The schoolmaster was a young man who was born for agitation; he loved to throw himself heart and soul into some new enterprise, and upon this occasion he had the satisfaction at least of getting up plenty of excitement. What transpired in that fatal interview between him and the ruling elder could never be accurately learned from the former. When questioned upon the subject, he confined his remarks to dark hints regarding antediluvian pig-headedness and backwoods ignorance, but Wee Andra, who in his heart was rather proud of his sire's fighting qualities, spread the account of the schoolmaster's defeat over the whole neighbourhood, with the result that for a season the agitators left their common enemy to turn upon and rend each other.
On the evening after the encounter, Duncan Polite sat expectantly on his door-step. He knew that Andrew would be sure to come down to tell him of the affair, and he was waiting in some trepidation, hoping that his fiery old friend had not said something which would wreck forever the peace of Glenoro church.
Duncan scarcely felt equal to shouldering any more burdens that day, for only the morning before Donald had left for college. The old man had sent him away with high hopes for his future; but he missed his boy more than he could tell. For Donald had been as his own son ever since the Neil boys had been left fatherless. "The Neil boys" they were always called, for their father, as well as their mother, had been a McDonald and, of necessity, his sons used his first name only. Neil McDonald had died when Archie was an infant, and had left Donald at the head of the family, a circumstance which might have proved disastrous to both Donald and the family had it not been for Duncan Polite. For in his boyhood Donald had bade fair to inherit his father's fame, and in the good old fighting days when men used their axes in argument, Neil More was the fiercest warrior between the two lakes. But as manhood approached, discretion had tempered young Donald's valour; he had grown up under the gentle but potent influence of his uncle and had developed a character of which Duncan Polite was justly proud.
But now Donald was gone; and Duncan was sitting thinking sadly of his loss and of this coming trouble, when a sturdy, square figure came down the darkening road.
"Come away in, Andra," said Duncan Polite rising, while Collie bowed his respectful welcome, "come away in, for you will be finding it cool on the step, whatever."
But Andrew preferred to sit out of doors.
Duncan divined at once from his manner that he was in a very bad frame of mind, and so attempted to lead the conversation into a safe channel. "I hear we will be having a fine young man next Sabbath," he commenced hopefully, "Mr. Murray. I would be hearing Mr. Cameron speak of him often."
Andrew Johnstone grunted.
"Aye, mebby," he remarked sourly. "Whatever he's like he'll suit the young folk anyway, for he'll be new, an' that's a' they want. Man, Duncan, the youth o' this day are jist fair daft! The Athenians were naething to them, for their one desire is to possess some new thing. They've got a new church, an' they're goin' to hae a new meenister, an' they're wantin' them new bit tinklin' hymns; aye, an' they're wantin' new elders, Ah'm sure o' that. When you an' me an' a few more o' the auld buddies slip awa, they'll jist be gettin' a new God an' then Ah houp they'll be setisfied!"
"Och, och, Andra," said Duncan Polite soothingly. "Lads and lassies will be young, an' we would be that way ourselves once, and they will be better than you know. There's your own lad now, an' Sandy——"
"Andra! Oor Andra!" cried that young man's father. "The maist upsettin' scamp in the hale pack, an' it's his ain faither has to say it in shame an' humiliation! Him an' Sandy are jist gone fair daft. It's fleein' here to this tea-meetin' an stravagin' yonder to some bit choir practise, an' here awa, there awa, until Ah dinna ken what's to be the end o' it! Aye, an' the next thing they've gotten intill their bit heids is that they must get a bit o' an idolatrous music boax for the kirk! Yon bit thistle heid o' a schoolmaister cam' till me aboot the thing the day; what d'ye think o' yon?"
"Dear, dear, that would be a peety," said the champion of youth, somewhat disconcerted.
"Aye, they've come till it at last! Ah've kenned weel they've been hatchin' plans this while back an' that oor Andra was in it, aye, an' Donal' afore he gaed away, but Ah jist gave no heed to their bit noise, an' Andra kenned his faither better than to come till him wi' his norms till yon bit slippery, feather-heided crater cam' till me this mornin'."
"An' would he be asking you if they could get one?"
"Askin' me! He didna jist order me to hae the thing bought, but it was michty near't. Sez he, 'We hae gotten the consent o' a' the ither elders, Maister Johnstone, an' we know ye jist can't refuse us; we'd like to hae it afore the new meenister comes,'—the danderin' bit eejit!"
"I hope you would not be too hard on him, Andra, Mr. Watson would be meaning no harm——"
"No harm! And are ye the man, Duncan McDonald, to ask an elder of the Kirk to countenance evil? Ah wes not half so hard on the buddy as he deserved, but Ah jist telled him pretty plain what Ah thought o' them a' turnin' the hoose o' God into a circus! 'Ye hae the consent o' a' the elders, hae ye?' Ah sez. 'An' noo it's ma consent ye want, is it? Weel, ye hae it!' Ah sez;' for if ye're that set on gettin' yer bit screechin' boax ma advice'll no hold ye back, so ye may get yer piece o' idolatory,' Ah sez; 'but mark ma word!' Ah sez, 'mark ma word, the day yon thing raises its noise an' pollutes the holy place— Ah'll no resign. Oh! no, that's what ye're lookin' for,' Ah sez, for Ah'd heerd rumours—'Ah'll no resign,' Ah sez, 'but Ah'll jist wait till the Sabbath's ower an' Ah'll get ma ax,' Ah sez, 'an by the help o' the Almichty Ah'll smash the abomination into a thoosand splinters!'"
His stick came down upon the doorstone with a crash that prophesied total destruction to the offending instrument.
"Hoots, toots, Andra!" cried Duncan Polite reprovingly, "it's jist violent you will be; and, indeed, I will be thinkin' it would not be right to drive the young folks."
"The Maister drove oot wi' a scourage them as misused the hoose o' God," responded the apostle of force severely.
"Aye, the Master," said Duncan, his fine face lighting up. "The Master!" he repeated the word tenderly. "Eh, but that would be a fine word, Andra, a fine word. Yes, He would be doing that once, but that would not be His spirit, ah, no indeed! For He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth! Eh, eh, and yet He would be the Master o' the whole Universe!" His voice died away, he sat motionless, his long slender hands hanging at his side, his eyes seeing wondrous sights on the purple slope of the opposite hillside.
Andrew Johnstone ceased his vicious whacking of Duncan's asters and conveyed his stick to its decorous Sabbath position behind him. His friend's sublime spirituality always cooled Splinterin' Andra's wrath.
There was a long silence, the sound of a bell tinkling away in the dark forest opposite and the distant murmur of the village alone broke the stillness. Andrew rose to go in a much better frame of mind. "You an' me, Duncan," he said with some sadness, "belong to a past generation. Maister Cameron's gone, an' the auld buddies are slippin' awa fast, an' whiles Ah hae little patience wi' the new fangled notions. Will the country be a God-fearin' one, Ah wonder, when we're a' awa?"
It was the question and also the tragedy of their lives, the question Duncan Polite's whole life was given up towards answering.
"We must jist be trusting that to the Lord, Andra," he said with his usual hopefulness. "Whatever changes come, He is the same yesterday, to-day and forever."
But Duncan Polite realised the affair was not ended. He knew it was not likely that the young people would defy Splinterin' Andra and drive him to violence, but the fire of gossip would be set going and he feared his friend's life would be embittered. He was thinking deeply and sadly over the problem the next morning as he dug up the potatoes from his garden. There was Coonie, now, if he set his sharp tongue going against the elder there would be no end to the trouble. He glanced up and saw the subject of his thoughts coming slowly down the road in his old buckboard.
Why the Glenoro mail-carrier was called Coonie instead of Henry Greene, which was his real name, was, like all that gentleman's personal affairs, shrouded in mystery. Some doubted that Coonie himself knew, though if he did it was not at all likely he would divulge the secret, for he guarded very carefully his own private business. Whatever concerned himself held a monopoly of his reticence, however, for in matters of current gossip he was second to none in the whole township of Oro. He beat even Miss Cotton and Mrs. Fraser, for, whereas they might arrive at a stage when they had nothing more to tell, not so Coonie. If he found himself without some startling news he manufactured it to suit the occasion.
His vehicle was an old buckboard with a wide seat, and a rickety old chariot it was. His custom was to sit slouching at one end of the seat, one foot upon the dashboard, the other dangling down in the dust, thus making the other end of the seat stick away up in the air, as though to suggest to any chance pedestrian that he was almost crowded out already and could accommodate no one.
His horse was a poor, decrepit, old creature, whom he had named Bella, after the eldest of the pretty Hamilton girls, much to that young lady's disgust. In spite of old Bella's skeleton appearance and hobbling gait, Coonie took great pride in her and offered many times to trot her against Sandy Neil's racer. Her extreme lameness seemed quite appropriate, however, for in this respect she was the fitting complement to her master. For poor Coonie was a cripple, scarcely able to bear his long body on his weak ankles, and when the villagers saw him stumble painfully out of his vehicle at the post-office and drag himself to the veranda, even the person outraged by his latest flight of fancy forgave and pitied him. Everyone felt that the nimbleness of his tongue was perhaps only some slight compensation for the uselessness of his feet.
His daily drive through Glenoro was something of an event to all the inhabitants, for he was willing to stop everywhere and anywhere and tell the latest news. Old Andrew considered him a most pernicious individual and a breeder of evil in the Glen, and for that reason as well as on general principles, Coonie took a particular delight in libelling the ruling elder. He pulled up as he reached Duncan's gate. He never passed without a few words with the old man. Not because he ever heard or told any gossip at Duncan Polite's, but Coonie could never forget a certain dark night when the mail bag was lost and the drunken mail-carrier in danger of finding himself behind prison bars, a night when Duncan Polite had toiled over the hills through mud and rain, and had rescued him. Not a person in the whole countryside, except the two, knew of the affair, but Coonie remembered, and in his queer way tried to repay the man who had saved him.
"Mornin'!" he called, somewhat crustily, as was his wont in opening a conversation. "How's things this mornin'?"
Duncan had hurried into the house and now emerged with a dipperful of creamy buttermilk. Coonie drank it off in one long pull.
"Ginger, that's prime!" he cried, drawing a long breath. "Goes right to the dry spot. How's your potatoes?"
"Oh, they will be very good, very good indeed," said Duncan. He hesitated a moment and then continued. "You would be hearing about the master and the organ?" he questioned in some embarrassment.
Coonie shot out a look of surprise from his small bright eyes; that Duncan Polite should open any such subject was an amazing thing.
"Yep," he answered sharply. "Why?"
"I will be having no right to interfere, Coonie." Duncan Polite never by the slightest gesture hinted that he had any claim on the mail-carrier's gratitude. "I will be having no right to interfere, but this will be a thing that will do harm to the church and the Lord's work, and if it is talked about,——" Duncan's reticence was overcoming him again after this unusual outburst.
Coonie nodded in perfect comprehension. He planted his foot upon the dashboard once more. "You don't want folks to be gabbin' about yours truly up on the hill yonder?" He jerked his thumb over his shoulder in the direction where Andrew Johnstone's house appeared far up the slope. "Well, I guess I'll have to choke off a few. Gedap thar, whatter ye doin'!" He gave old Bella a lash with the whip which she noticed merely by a switch of her tail. His shoulders sank to their accustomed limpness and he took no notice of Duncan's thanks as he drove off. He was really disappointed, for he had prepared such a version of the story, purporting to have come from the Oa, as would set Splinterin' Andra in a rage forever. He sighed over his loss.
But his attention was soon diverted by a welcome sight. Sim Baskerville, the village store-keeper and postmaster, commonly called Basketful in accordance with the custom of the country, could already be seen, even from this height, coming out upon the veranda at short intervals to see if the mail were coming. Nothing annoyed the postmaster so much as to have the mail arrive late, and nothing pleased the mail-carrier so much as to annoy the postmaster. Mr. Basketful was a choleric Englishman, and one of Coonie's chief diversions was to put him into a rage by a dilatory approach to the village. So, seeing his enemy on the lookout, he let old Bella crawl down the hill with maddening slowness, looking round, meanwhile, for somebody with whom he might stop and talk.
The first opportunity presented itself with the whirring of a sewing machine, coming from a little house on the edge of the village. It was a tiny white cottage, apparently kept from encroaching upon the road by a thick rope of lilacs, a trim little place, painfully neat. When that sound emanated from within, Coonie knew that the village dressmaker was at home; and as she bore a fierce hatred to him and all his doings, he never failed to give her a call when possible. He drew up his buckboard before the lilac bushes, therefore, happily conscious of certain vigorous gesticulations from the post-office veranda, of a character calculated to encourage rapid approach.
"Hello! in there!" he shouted.
There was no response, except for a more determined whizzing of the machine.
"Got a message for you, 'Liza!"
To the angry occupant of the house it was agony to go on sewing. Who knew but that, for once, the old fool might be telling the truth, she reflected. Perhaps someone in the Oa had sent word with him that she was wanted there for a day's sewing, and she knew nothing would please Coonie better than to have her refuse to listen.
But by this time her tormentor, despairing of ever enticing her out by fair words, resolved to launch a bomb which he knew was sure to bring the besieged raging to the walls. "Got a message from Tom Poole!" he roared, loud enough to be heard at Mrs. Fraser's across the valley. "He says to tell you he's comin' down sparkin' to-morrow night!"
Miss Cotton flashed into the doorway, white with rage. She, who had never seen the man who dared to pay her loverlike attentions, to have her name bawled out over the countryside coupled with that of a man who was a widower of six months with a family of as many children! She shook her scissors in his face.
"If you don't shut up your tomfoolery, you blatherin' old idiot!" she cried, in a sort of shrieking whisper, "I'll throw boilin' water over you!"
Coonie stared in injured righteousness. "Well I never! That's all the thanks I get for obligin' you. I can't help it if he's gone spooney on you; next time I bring you a message——"
"Yes, next time you bring me a message it'll be the last you'll take to a livin' soul. Drive your old hearse away from my door, will you, an' tell your lies to somebody that's big enough fool to believe you!"
The door slammed and the sewing machine buzzed wrathfully, and Coonie sent Bella scrambling down the hill, his drooping shoulders heaving with convulsive laughter. To put 'Liza Cotton into a rage, while Sim Basketful, in a similar condition, was popping in and out of his store door like a jack-in-the-box, was worth the whole day's drive. He meandered along chuckling loudly, but suddenly checked his mirth as he espied Maggie Hamilton standing at the gate beneath the oaks and holding a bundle under her arm. This was evidently intended for him, so he drove to the opposite side of the road and crawled along with drooping shoulders and abstracted mien.
But this particular Miss Hamilton understood Coonie's dark ways and knew how to deal with him. She darted across the road and caught old Bella by the head.
"Hold on now, smarty!" she said. "You needn't pretend you've turned deaf and blind all at once, you're stupid enough without. Here's a parcel for Aunt Mary McLean, Coonie, and mother wants you to take it to her, please, like an old duck. You know Aunt Mary thinks you're the handsomest fellow in Oro."
But Coonie was not be flattered into obliging anyone. "Look here, you," he growled, "what d'ye think I run this mail for, anyhow? Think it's a charitable institution? You tell your Aunt Mary Maria stick-in-the-mud that if she thinks the Almighty created me to cart truck over the country for lazy lumps like you that thinks they're too good to walk, she'd better go an' get informed all over again."
But Maggie had expected this and was prepared. "Jess! Sarah! Bell!" she cried, "come out here quick and settle this old donkey! He's gone balky again!"
There was a chorus of shrieks, a swish of skirts down the garden path, and reinforcements in the shape of three more young ladies emerged from the gate and fell upon the rebellious mail-carrier. They climbed into the shaking old buckboard and Maggie seized the reins and turned old Bella up the hill again.
"Now, we'll drive you clean back to Lakeview, if you don't speak up smart and say you'll take it!" she cried.
But Coonie did not mind. Mr. Basketful was by this time in the middle of the road, so he prolonged the encounter as long as possible.
"Go ahead," he said, settling himself comfortably in his seat; "you'll soon be at the Oa, if you keep on. I bet that's where Jessie wants to go to see what's the latest news from Don Neil."
"Yes, and you want to go up the hill and talk to 'Liza Cotton," retorted Jessie.
"That's it," laughed Maggie, pulling the old horse almost into the ditch, "you'd trot off with a bundle quick enough if she asked you."
Coonie roared. "Well, that's true. Haw! Haw! I'd start off that quick I'd never git stopped. Gosh! but ain't she the old scorpion!" he exclaimed with feeling, "Say, if her an' me was the only folks left in the world, I'd kill her an' live alone. See here, you scalawags, clear out an' leave that poor brute alone, an' I'll take your trash."
It was a surrender. The victorious quartette leaped from the buckboard and retired, with many admonitions for his guidance in his future dealings with them, warnings which Coonie pretended not to hear.
His shoulders sagged again as he slowly approached the post-office. He paused a few moments on the bridge, to gaze meditatively into the water, then he spent some time gesticulating to an imaginary person down at the mill-dam, and at last, slowly and with every appearance of insupportable weariness, dragged up to the post-office door.
"Kind of hot," he remarked genially, noticing the perspiring countenance of the indignant postmaster.
Mr. Basketful took the mail-bag with a withering air. "Kind o'," he remarked sarcastically. "Guess your 'orse 'ad a sunstroke on the road. 'Ere 'Syl, tend to that hanimal, will you?"
A stylishly dressed young man came down with elegant leisure from his position on a cracker barrel and proceeded to water Coonie's horse. The mail-carrier's helpless condition called for assistance which was always freely rendered. The person to whom the task generally fell was Mr. Sylvanus Todd, who, by reason of his leisurely habits, found plenty of time, when not assisting his father in the cheese factory, to lounge around the post-office and look up the street to see what the Hamilton girls were doing. Sylvanus always assisted Coonie most willingly; he was a young man who was noted all over the township of Oro for his obliging ways and his mannerly deportment. Indeed, Mr. Todd posed as an authority on all matters of etiquette. He even went so far once as to admonish Wee Andra on the errors of his pedestrianism. "When you're walkin' with a lady, Andra," Sylvanus had said kindly, "you'd ought to let her walk up agin' the buildin's." But so far from improving the giant's manners this good advice only caused him to place his adviser in a tank of cheese factory whey and to continue thereafter to walk as seemed right in his own eyes.
Coonie did not care for Syl Todd; he had much of the simple guilelessness of his parents and did not take teasing with any pleasurable degree of asperity. So the mail-carrier generally treated him with silent contempt. He swung himself from the buckboard and hobbled painfully to the store veranda.
"Business seems pressin' with you, Mr. Todd," he remarked as he lit his pipe. "You're always in an awful rush."
Mr. Todd gave a doubtful grin. "Well say, Coonie, this here's the backwoodsest place I ever seen; us Americans can't stand it."
Sylvanus had spent six months in the United States, managing a gigantic business firm, he had hinted, from which enterprise he had returned to the parental roof, a sadder if not a wiser man, to take up the more lucrative employment of making cheese. He never quite outlived the glory of his travels, however.
Coonie grunted. "You should a' stayed over there an' been President. They must be awful lonesome since you left. Any noos?"
"Well, I should snicker if there wasn't! The master's got into an awful row!"
His listener sighed deeply. What an opportunity this would have been to set his version of the story going!
"What's eatin' him?" he asked with wonderful self-control. "Neil kids been lickin' him again?"
"Worse nor that; he's got into a row with Splinterin' Andra!"
"Gosh!" Coonie's amazement would have deceived a much more astute individual than Sylvanus Todd. "What's that old wind-mill got himself flappin' about now?"
"About gettin' the organ for the Presbyterian church. Watson spoke to Splinterin' Andra about it an' the old fellow gave him Hail Columbia, as they say in the States."
Mr. Basketful was coming out with the mall-bag.
"It's true, every word of it, Coonie," he said, his wrath having vanished. "That's the way with them Presbyterians; they're that stiff they can't 'elp 'avin' trouble."
Coonie scrambled into his buckboard, feeling doubly crippled in the galling restriction that had been put upon his unruly member. He drove off without a word, not even stopping at Mrs. Fraser's gate at the top of the hill. Syl Todd sat upon the veranda of the store, watching until his old buckboard sank behind the south hill, wondering if he were ill.
Duncan had never before tried to exercise a restraining influence upon Coonie's tongue, though as he watched his old buckboard straying down into the valley, crossing and recrossing the road, to allow its owner to joke and gossip with this one and that, the Watchman often thought what a power for good Coonie might be in Glenoro if only his heart were touched by the grace of God. His first attempt at stemming the tide of the mail-carrier's gossip met with wonderful success, however. People discovered that for some inexplicable reason, Coonie seemed to have no interest whatever in Splinterin' Andra's behaviour over the proposal of an organ, and with the chief stoker idle, the fire of gossip soon died for want of fuel. The young people postponed their project indefinitely, and gradually the affair dropped out of the public interest, making way for a much more important matter.
THE SECOND JOHN McALPINE
Donald's first year at college passed uneventfully. He returned the next spring to his work on the farm, covered with honours, full of tales of his studies or his freshman adventures, but never a word of his final destiny, though Duncan Polite anxiously awaited it. He was in some trouble about Donald. He had set up a high standard for his boy and was pained and surprised when he failed to attain it. If only Mr. Cameron were living, he often reflected with a sigh, he would soon set Donald's feet in the right path. The lack of a pastor was a great grief to Duncan Polite. What would happen to his covenant if the flock were left so long shepherdless?
And then into the midst of his doubts and fears, his anxiety for the future and his regrets for the past, there came such a rich and abounding blessing, such an abundant answer to all his prayers, that for a season the Watchman was overwhelmed with contrite joy. For, after nearly a year of dissension, the congregations of Glenoro and the Tenth concession of Oro at last made choice of a minister, a choice which won the unanimous approval of both churches and suited everyone from old Andrew Johnstone to the Hamilton girls. He seemed to possess every requisite to suit the varied tastes of the varied people of Glenoro church. The old folk overlooked his youth, and the Oa forgot his lack of Gaelic in the light of his great achievement, for he possessed one quality that made it possible for him to bind together in peace and harmony the different factions of the church. It was not that he was very handsome, that he had a free, winning manner, it was not that he had had a brilliant career at college or that his professors prophesied a great future for him, it was not that he was an eloquent preacher and was filled with zeal for his Master. All these were important; but they sank into insignificance before his cardinal virtue, that which placed him immeasurably above all other probationers and made Duncan Polite look upon him as the embodiment of all his hopes, for was he not a grandson of Glenoro's hero, and himself John McAlpine Egerton?
What more could Glenoro hope for on this earth? What more could be desired? Mr. McAlpine come back to them! It seemed too good to be true. He did not even need to preach for a call. In fact, he had had no intention of doing so, but Peter Farquhar and Donald Fraser had heard him preach one Sabbath in Toronto when they went to the Exhibition, and they brought home such a glowing report of this second John McAlpine that at the close of his college term they all with one consent invited him to come and be their pastor. Even the Oa went for him solidly; a Gaelic preacher seemed an impossible luxury in these degenerate times, anyway, and, as Peter Farquhar said, "Mr. McAlpine's grandson without the Gaelic was better than any other man with it."
There had not been such a congregation in the Glenoro church since the days of the first John McAlpine as there was the Sabbath after the young man's induction. All the old people who had not come out to church since Mr. Cameron's death were there. Many of them remembered their young pastor's grandfather, whose fiery zeal and burning eloquence melted the hearts of those who had gone astray and shook to the very foundations of their being the most hardened sinners,—and here was his counterpart raised up to take his place!
As the young man stood up during the singing of the first psalm, many aged eyes noted with loving eagerness certain resemblances in voice and gesture to their hero. His face was handsome and clear-cut and lit by a pair of kindly, frank, blue eyes, a face which betokened a generous and amiable disposition. And the way he held up his fine head and straightened his broad shoulders was so like the first John McAlpine that many an old couple nudged each other with delight.
Miss Cotton had never seen the first McAlpine, but as she sat at the end of the Hamilton pew she could not resist giving Maggie a nudge when the handsome young man's eyes travelled in their direction, a nudge so pregnant of meaning that Maggie giggled and transferred the same to Sarah, whence it passed down the long row, setting ribbons and flowers quivering, all to the extreme disapproval of Mrs. Fraser, who was not too much occupied with the new minister to overlook any of the misdemeanours of the Hamilton pew.
John Hamilton, himself, was in a state of dazed joy and quite oblivious of his daughters. Any sort of a minister was an object of reverent delight to the pious old man, but this one was so much better than he had ever dreamed, that he looked at him with something akin to awe.
Andrew Johnstone sat at the end of his pew as straight and forbidding as ever, but the gleam of his eyes, from underneath his bristling brows, showed that his spirit was rejoicing.
Back in the last row, the young men of the church sat regarding the new minister with approval and some envy. Syl Todd, who did not follow after his parents' form of religion, but went now to the Presbyterian Church and now to the Methodist, with impartial irregularity, emphatically declared Mr. Egerton the most stylish looking fellow he had seen since he left the States, and during the sermon silently registered a vow that he would part his hair in the middle, too, just as soon as he got home.
Peter McNabb's voice seemed charged with the universal rejoicing. Not since he had missed Mr. Cameron behind him had the precentor let his notes roll out so tumultuously glorious as when he led the first psalm,
"Oh come let us sing to the Lord, Come let us everyone A joyful noise make to the Rock Of our Salvation!"
But of all the happy hearts in that congregation, there was none like Duncan Polite's. He looked up at the young divine standing, like Saul, head and shoulders above the people, and there came to his mind the words spoken by the Lord to Samuel, "Behold the man whom I spoke to thee of!" This was the man of promise, the man of his dreams.
The very air of the church seemed electric as the young minister opened the Bible and began his sermon. The earnest for the future contained in the text thrilled Duncan's soul, "For I am determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified." "Nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified!" Duncan Polite repeated the words to himself again and again. Ah, what a transformation was coming over his glen, what a glorious fulfilment of his covenant—"Nothing but Jesus Christ!"
The discourse surpassed even their expectations. It was a fine sermon, sound enough in doctrine to suit the ruling elder and brilliant enough in delivery to keep Syl Todd awake. Indeed, Miss Cotton declared afterwards that it was the cleverest sermon she ever listened to, for she didn't understand more than half of it.
But Glenoro's literary attainments were not represented by Eliza Cotton. The bulk of the congregation carried the sermon to their homes to discuss it until another one came, and Duncan and Andrew stood so long at the former's gate, going carefully over it point by point, that they forgot time and place and were almost late for Sabbath school.
After the service the congregation pressed about their new pastor, welcoming him with hearty handshakes. He went down the aisle in his free, kindly manner, grasping the outstretched hands, and almost overcome by the tearful greeting from the old people. His own eyes were moist when at last he was able to get away and out into the street. The people stood crowding the steps to watch him pass up the hill accompanied by the precentor. Mrs. McNabb had been a school teacher in her younger days, and on account of this distinction the McNabb household was the recognised stopping place for any genteel visitor in the Glen. Consequently, they had the honour of boarding the minister, and, as he walked out of the gate and up the road, the McNabb family moved reverently in his wake, resplendent in his reflected glory.
For the next two days after that happy Sabbath, Duncan Polite moved about in a radiant dream. He was waiting in childlike faith for the blessings which were to descend. His whole thought was turned upon Donald. Here was the man to influence him and bring him to a sense of the great work awaiting his efforts. He was sitting at his door one evening a few days after the new minister's advent, looking down into his glen. His hopes for the valley had never been so high. The little ravine lay in purple shadow, but on the crest of the opposite hill he saw one tall pine standing up erect and grand and all ablaze where it caught the last gleam of the dying sun, a pine tree with golden needles like the one in the fairy tale. Duncan's heart, always in keen sympathy with Nature, thrilled at the sight. It seemed to him the bright promise of a new and greater day. He turned and saw Donald coming up the path.
"Oh, and will you be going to the Glen?" he asked, making room for the young man on the doorstep beside him.
"Yes, but I can't sit down, Uncle. Anything to look after?"
"Oh, no, it will be good of you to be always remembering the old man; no, but—will you be seeing the minister, I wonder?"
"Yes, sure, I'm going to the Hamiltons'"—Donald essayed to make this remark in a casual tone, as though this were not his almost daily habit—"I'm going to the Hamiltons' and Archie said Mr. Egerton was to be there to-night. They asked him down to meet some of the young folks."
Duncan's face beamed. "Oh, indeed, and that would be a fine thing!" he cried enthusiastically. He did not detain his nephew longer, for once he was anxious to see the boy off for the village. Formerly, he had suffered much anxiety because Donald and Sandy spent their evenings hanging around the corner with a crowd of idlers, or at the Hamiltons', where there was nothing but frivolity and gaiety, but now all this was changed, for had not Mr. McAlpine returned to them? And was not the Glen a place of blessing to any young person who entered it?
A few minutes after Donald had reached his destination, the young minister passed out of Peter McNabb's gate on the slope of the north hill and in company with the boys and girls of his boarding place, went away down towards the Hamiltons'. He walked along buoyantly, filled with admiration of the lovely little valley stretched at his feet. Although the dusk was gathering, his movements were noted and commented upon by everyone within seeing distance. The cane he carried came in for special notice, opinion upon it varying from Syl Todd, who was hurrying, oiled and perfumed, towards the Hamiltons' from the opposite direction and who was overcome with envious admiration, to Mrs. Fraser, who, from the post-office veranda, noted the implement of fashion with some misgiving. Of course, it was all right for a minister to carry one if he chose. He was too far above the rest of the community to be judged by ordinary standards; but there was no denying that a slim cane savoured of "pride," and might prove a stumbling-block to Donald Neil and wee Andra and such wayward youths as were easily led astray.
Meanwhile, the object of all this interest had arrived at the gate between the big oaks. The house was a blaze of light, notwithstanding the early hour. Bars of pink lamp-light stretched out across the dusky lawn and into the dark corners of the orchard. Someone was playing a lively jig on the organ. There was a mingled sound of talking, laughter, screams and hurrying feet, and all the usual evening hubbub of this lively place.
The Hamilton family consisted of seven girls who were allowed more clothes and liberty than was considered quite respectable in Glenoro society. The Hamilton parents were not usually reckoned in speaking of the household and were at best only accessory. Old John Hamilton lived in a state of good-natured bewilderment when in the bosom of his lively family. He spent the day at his flour mill down the river road and in the evenings read his Bible and his weekly paper undisturbed and happy amid all the rush and din. His wife was a bright little woman who, having had a hard time in her own youth, felt there was some compensation in allowing the girls to "have their fling," as she termed it, until they "settled down."
As the minister approached, Mrs. Hamilton was standing at the gate waiting to welcome him, Miss Cotton beside her. Being the village dressmaker, Miss Cotton had the open sesame to every home in the neighbourhood and held its occupants at the mercy of her sharp tongue and needle. To-night she chose to bestow her company upon the Hamiltons, determined to lose nothing of the excitement consequent upon the new minister's introduction to society.
The big sitting-room, to which Mrs. Hamilton led her guest, was full of young folks, the Frasers, the Duffys, the Baskervilles, the Balfs and a crowd of McDonalds; college students, farmers and mill-hands, for Glenoro knew no social lines.
But amid all the crowd, the stranger's eye picked out a girl at the other end of the room. She was seated on the organ-stool playing, and turned at the sudden silence announcing the minister's entrance. She was dressed in a transparent white gown with a blue ribbon wound round her slender throat; the lamp on the organ above shed a soft glow upon a dainty head of clustering brown curls and a face of exquisite shape and feature.
The newcomer took this all in with a glance, experiencing a sensation of decided pleasure, but his attention was called by his hostess, who proceeded to introduce him to the assembly. The laughing, chattering groups broke up and all stood back against the wall, stiff and silent, while Mrs. Hamilton triumphantly piloted her guest down the long rows. He shook hands cordially with all and gave a pleasant word of recognition to the few he had met before. The young men received him with a hasty and somewhat limp handshake and an awkward "how d'ye do;" the young women were more graceful, but quite as diffident, and all were painfully respectful. But there was one young man who displayed neither awkwardness nor shyness. He stood leaning easily against the organ, but straightened himself as the minister approached and was thus between him and the girl at the instrument.
"This is another Mr. McDonald," Mrs. Hamilton was saying for the fifth time, adding the usual vague explanation, "Mr. Neil More, Donald Neil More, you know, Mr. Egerton."
Mr. Egerton did not know, but he could not help feeling that this young man was quite capable of distinguishing himself, even though he bore an ambiguous name. He was tall enough to let his eyes look down just a trifle as he shook hands, but perhaps that was because of the way he held his head. He was friendly and kind; but the young minister, accustomed to the adulation of rural friends, somehow missed the look of deference from his fearless dark eyes and instinctively experienced a slight feeling of constraint.
But the next introduction was an unmixed pleasure, when a pair of sweet grey eyes were raised for an instant to his face and Mrs. Hamilton said, unable to keep a tremor of pride from her voice, "And this is our Jessie, Mr. Egerton."
He was sorry that she did not speak, but she gave him her hand with an alluring shyness, and then he understood why the Hamiltons' was such a centre of attraction.
The introductions were finished at last and the visitor found himself anchored rather insecurely to a slippery haircloth sofa and seated beside a small, youngish woman with a very haughty air, who, he learned, was the schoolmaster's wife.
The buzz of talk had commenced again, though much subdued, and he was at liberty to examine the company. They were four grown-up Hamilton girls, he noticed, and three little ones. With the exception of the beauty on the organ-stool, the young ladies were rather puzzling to a stranger. They were all tall and fair and pretty, but the minister's quick eye soon noted distinguishing characteristics. Bella, the eldest and the one to whom the young Johnstone giant was paying such obvious attentions, was the tallest and fairest. Sarah, the one with the affected air of discontent, was the third in the quartette. He also discovered afterwards that she was the cleverest and quite aware of the fact, and the noisy rattle-brain who was up to some mischief in a corner and to whom Mrs. Hamilton was making gesticulatory appeals, was Maggie, the fourth girl.
But he was compelled to give his attention to his immediate neighbours; with Mrs. Watson on one side and Miss Cotton on the other, he was soon possessed of an exhaustive history of everyone present. Sarah Hamilton went to the High School and was dreadful stuck up about it; Allan Fraser, the pale young man talking to her, was studying medicine, and young Donald Neil was going to be a minister. Both ladies agreed, however, that Mr. Egerton would consider Donald's conduct anything but clerical, though he was good to his mother, poor woman—a bad time she had with those noisy rascals——
The steady flow of information was interrupted by the appearance of Mr. Hamilton. He had been struggling with his coat and a clean collar ever since the minister's arrival, and now came stumbling hurriedly into the room.
"Eh, eh, good evening, Mr. Egerton," he cried heartily, "good evening, sir, Ah'm jist that glad to see ye in the hoose, came awa into the other room, come awa, man, an' we'll have a quiet word."
"Now, pa," protested Mrs. Hamilton, who had been hovering round her guest, "don't take Mr. Egerton away out there!"
"Tuts, mother, Ah'll bring him back to the lassies, never fear!" he cried, with ingenuous indiscretion. "Come awa, sir!"
The young man followed his host across the hall and into the dining room. It was a big, rag-carpeted room; a large easy chair was set beside the long table and a number of newspapers were strewn about. The evening breeze blew in cool and sweet, setting the stiff, white curtains swaying and bringing the refreshing scent of the river.
"No, jist ye set doon here, Mr. Egerton," said his host heartily, "an' mind, as long's ye're in Glenoro, ye canna come too often! The lassies cut up a bit dust in the room yonder, but there's always a quiet corner here, an' me an' Mr. Watson here,—tuts, tuts, Ah was forgettin'—this is Maister Watson, our schoolmaster, aye, aye!"
A small, slim, young man, with a dark, thin face and bristling hair jumped briskly from the depths of an easy chair and grasped Mr. Egerton's hand.
"Pleased to meet you, sir, pleased to meet you, I'm sure," he cried effusively. "I've been most anxious to meet you, especially since Sunday, sir. That sermon was the best I've ever heard in Ontario, sir; yes, sir, the very best, patriotism, patriotism, from beginning to end! That's the thing! That's what the country needs, sir!"
He pumped his auditor's hand up and down vigorously while he spoke, then, at the end, flung it from him, stepped back a pace and, striking an attitude, stood gazing up admiringly at the young minister.
John Egerton was decidedly surprised and a trifle disconcerted. He had not considered his sermon at all patriotic, though he did remember a slight allusion to the greatness of the heritage of Canadians, but he was a cordial young man and had come to Glenoro prepared to meet all sorts of people. Besides, he was still very young and had not yet got over feeling a thrill of pleasure when his sermon was praised.
"I am glad you liked it," he said smilingly, as he seated himself. "So you think we need more patriotism?"
"Patriotism! Well I should think so! It's the crying need of this country, sir! I'm glad I've got some one to sympathise with me at last. Do you know, Mr. Egerton," he drew up his chair closer and lowered his voice confidentially, "you'll find this an awfully backward place in that respect. If all rural Canadian places are as bad, I don't know what's to become of this country, sir! Why, the absence of any public spirit is simply appalling! Why, Mr. Hamilton here can tell you that when Mrs. Watson and I came here two years ago there wasn't a flag in Glenoro, sir!"
Mr. Hamilton acquiesced apologetically; he opened his mouth as if to speak, looked ashamed, and said nothing.
"Yes, sir," the schoolmaster was rattling along, "Mrs. Watson and I were in the States for a number of years and I can tell you there's where they know how to do things. Great country that, I tell you, sir, isn't it? Well, they know how to be patriotic there, I can tell you; flags waving, bands playing and crowds cheering. It's inspiring! But we could make something even of Canada if her people only had a little more go. What do you think about our organising a patriotic society here, sir?"
John Egerton sat back in his chair, and together the two young men settled the destiny of Canada and her provinces, as well as of Britain and her colonies, while their host sat in rapt attention. He told Peter McNabb at the blacksmith shop the next day that it was, without doubt, the most edifying talk to which he had ever listened. It was interrupted by a summons to the sitting room to join in the singing. Wee Andra, who was the leader in musical circles and who had as his equipment for the position a bass voice in proportion to his size, was marshalling his forces around the instrument. They made room for the minister in the best position. He found it very pleasant to stand and look over Jessie's bright curls as he sang. They rendered a number of gospel hymns and a new anthem which they were preparing for the Methodist service next Sabbath evening, the four parts going very harmoniously. Those young Presbyterians who had a vague fear of their minister discovering that they sang in the Methodist choir, were both relieved and pleased when he cried out, at the end of the anthem, "Why, that's grand! I think I shall turn Methodist myself!" And the Methodists present laughed delightedly.
Then Sandy Neil, who was an imp of mischief, produced the college song book which Allan Fraser had introduced into Glenoro the summer before. The girls were shocked at the thought of showing such a frivolous thing to the minister, and Bella Hamilton tried to conceal it behind the sofa; but, to the astonishment of all, he exclaimed as he caught sight of it, "The College Song Book! Why, here's an old friend! I've sung everything in that book till I've cracked my voice more times than I can tell. Come along, boys, let's have 'The Three Crows!'"
The boys let him have them with a rare good will, till the house rang. Sandy Neil got up on the back of the sofa, where the minister could not see him, and flapped his arms and cawed and altogether imitated the antics of a crow to such perfection that the girls around him were ready to die of smothered laughter. They sang all the old favourites, and when they came to one they did not know, the minister sang it alone. He had a fine deep musical voice, and when he rendered the history of "The Walloping Window Blind," he was rewarded with a hearty and unanimous round of applause.
Wee Andra quite fell in love with him, his diffidence entirely disappearing under the other's frank manner.
"My, I wish you'd get a choir in our church, Mr. Egerton!" he exclaimed in a burst of confidence when they had rendered another anthem with the minister's aid. But John Egerton was too astute to respond to this, otherwise than by a smile. He had learned something already of Glenoro's divided opinions and knew better than to take either side. But he sat down beside the choir leader and they talked about music and the newest anthems and the conducting of choral societies until Wee Andra was completely charmed.
They were interrupted by a commotion at the other end of the room; a group of young people were trying to learn a new game, and Mr. Sylvanus Todd was initiating them into its mysteries. But partly from a defective memory, and partly from terror of Maggie Hamilton's sharp and reviling tongue, he was getting woefully puzzled. The minister sprang up and came to his assistance. He knew the game well, explained it with a few bright, quick words and soon had the whole room joining. He was so free and unaffected, so absolutely one of themselves, that he won all hearts. Very soon all the restraint of his presence had melted away. They joined in the games with even more than their usual vim. The room rang with merriment. They played "Kitchen Furniture" and "Handkerchief"—yes, and even "Old Dan Tucker." This latter was suggested by Sandy Neil, of course, to the horror of the staider ones, for "Dan Tucker" perilously resembled dancing and was proscribed in most houses. Indeed, even at the Hamiltons' it was indulged in only behind closed doors and when Mrs. Hamilton was at a safe distance. But the minister was ready for anything; he went into the jolly circling ring of boys and girls as "Dan Tucker" himself, and when the time for changing partners came, he caught Jessie Hamilton's hand just as Donald Neil was reaching for it and swung her into the centre, her eyes dancing, her curls flying.
There was never quite such a grand time before, even at the Hamiltons'; the noise increased, the laughter grew wilder and the dust flew out of the carpet.
They ended up with an uproarious game of "Blind Man's Buff," in which Julia Duffy, a big muscular Irish girl, caught Mr. Egerton round the neck in a strangling grasp, and when she discovered whom she was embracing, she shrieked in horrified dismay, "Murderin' blazes! If it ain't the preacher!"
The crowd went off into roars of laughter, none joining so heartily as the minister himself, who was compelled to lean against the wall for support, and wipe the tears from his eyes.
"Shades of Mr. McAlpine!" said Donald Neil to his chum, as he found himself driven into a corner, "he's up-to-date and no mistake!"
"The Oa'll rear up on its hind legs when it hears," whispered Wee Andra with a broad grin. "There's no flies on him, though, I can tell you. I do like to see a minister actin' like a human being!"
Donald made no reply. He had been brought up under Duncan Polite's influence and was not quite prepared to agree with his friend.
Supper was announced at this moment. Jessie and Bella had slipped away some time before to assist in its preparation, for as soon as the minister had left the dining room Mrs. Hamilton had proceeded to bring up all her culinary triumphs of the morning and spread them out in magnificent array. Eliza Cotton, who assisted the girls to lay the table, gave up exclaiming at last, and resolved she would make Mrs. Fraser just green with envy telling her about it. For, of course, if one didn't do one's best at a visit from the minister, what possible combination of circumstances could call it forth?
The young man for whom the feast had been prepared was properly amazed as he took his seat at the long table, crowded with glass and gaily decorated with china and huge bouquets of tulips, and loaded with cakes and pies and tarts and jellies and cold meats and great heaps of snowy bread and great cups of creamy tea.
The schoolmaster sat next him and gave him his ideas upon the practicability of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and Mrs. Hamilton on the other side heaped his plate at short intervals, without stopping to ask permission. There was a great deal of noise and laughter at the other end of the table, for Maggie and Wee Andra and Sandy Neil were there. The guest did not fail to notice that Jessie was quieter than her sisters; her big eyes had a thoughtful expression. He caught himself wondering, more than once, what sort of girl she was; surely a person with a face like that could not be anything but perfect.
Mr. Hamilton sat at the head of the table, beaming good-nature all round, though he said very little except "Aye, oh aye," in a reflective tone. But, during a lull in the lively conversation at the other end of the table, he leaned over towards the minister with a question, "An' what are ye, Mr. Egerton? Of course, we all ken ye're part Highland Scotch, but not all, Ah hope."
The whole tableful was silent now and every eye was turned towards the young man addressed. The question was one of great importance. John Egerton laughed. "Oh, don't be alarmed," he said gaily, "I have plenty of Lowland blood, too, Mr. Hamilton; the Highland Scotch is only the McAlpine side. The Egertons are English, though."
Mr. Hamilton looked doubtful. "Oh aye," he said. "They never taught you the Gaelic, though. Man, the Oa folk would a' been pleased if ye could speak it."
The young man raised his eyebrows with a comical affectation of despair.
"Don't I wish I could!" he exclaimed. "But I'm not so ignorant as they think. I know more than ten words of Gaelic. You fellows from the Oa remember to tell that!"
There was a hearty laugh round the table. "By Jove, I will tell it," said Donald Neil, when the conversation had become general again, "I'll tell Catchach!"